This weekend I went on a half day silent retreat, the second one I’ve been on. There are so many benefits and learnings from these sorts of things, but one that stood out for me this time happened during the eating meditation. Eating has become quite zombie-like for most of us, perhaps because it’s just another thing on our to-do lists. We’re refueling to survive, and typically it’s while we’re checking our phones, working on our laptops, watching TV or talking to our families. And while there’s nothing wrong with the last one, you will find that something quite magical happens if you eat alone, and you eat in silence.
During this eating meditation I had a small side plate filled with various things. There was a big juicy strawberry, some vegetable crisps, a dollop of hummus, a seed cracker smeared with almond butter, a segment of naartjie and one bright orange carrot. It was incredible to smell the food, look at it more closely, feel the textures of things between my fingers, roll the flavours around my mouth. Everything was more delicious than usual.
But it was the carrot that surprised me. I mean, you’ll find me eating carrots frequently. But on Saturday, for the first time in a long while, I REALLY tasted that carroty carrotness. It was something about the crisp snap of it as my front teeth bit into it. The exact texture between my molars as I chewed it. The flavour was like new things pushing through the earth, like what something must feel as it bursts through the soil into the air of this world, like the wonder of childhood, and all possibilities that lie before you.
Because as soon as I really tasted that carrot, I was suddenly six again, kneeling in the dirt of my grandmother’s vegetable patch, the feeling of sun on the back of my neck. She was wearing her gardening gloves, but also a blouse tucked neatly into her tailored trousers, and a wide hat on her head. She always only let me choose one carrot each time I visited her vegetable patch, because the rest were being kept for meals, so I put a lot of time into choosing that one carrot.
The thing about carrots is, you can’t judge the quality of them by what appears before your eyes. What I mean is: you may choose the one with the bushiest greenest leaves, and expect that once you’d pulled this particular carrot out of the soft brown earth, you’d be rewarded with a carrot as magnificent as its leaves had indicated.
But I learned over the years that this was not at all how it worked. Often the most luscious leaves ended up being attached to the most disappointing of carrots, tiny anaemic looking ones, that weren’t even orange (more like ghostly white or faded yellow). And sometimes you’d take a chance on a very average looking set of leaves and once you pulled it up, you’d be presented with the most perfect carrot – the finest specimen you’d ever seen.
Then I’d head over to the tap, rinse off most of the dirt and then sit on a rock munching on that carrot, watching my grandmother work in her garden, turning the soil, or weeding, or planting something new. And that carrot would taste a little like grit, and a lot like happiness.
So when I tasted that carrot on Saturday, it was all of that which went through my mind. And it made me think how people are like carrots too. The ones that appear to be most beautiful from the outside can be hugely disappointing once their true natures are revealed. It’s often the ones that look very average, or even less than average, that are the juiciest, the sweetest and the most satisfying.
It’s amazing that I got that all from eating carrots, is it not? A bit crazy really. And it’s reaffirmed for me, that if we just pay attention to what life presents to us, all sorts of treasures will be revealed.
Have wonderful weeks ahead (and why not try some mindful eating at an upcoming meal? It’s the bomb!)
P.S: I’m aware that with kids this mindful eating thing may be impossible. But maybe once they’re in bed? Or even if you’re eating lunch at your desk? Put on some earphones and try and focus on the food and the entire experience.